Trout are notoriously finicky. There are numerous factors that might lead them to refuse your fly. In my experience, it is the tendency of many anglers to attribute refusals to the fact that they did not have the right fly. We’ve all heard the term “match the hatch,” and although I am not downplaying the importance of fly selection for a successful day on the river, I am suggesting that the problem may not lie in that particular fly, but in the drift.
Trout are conditioned to, in most instances, look for their food source to be drifting naturally with the current. While there are other highly effective means of inducing a strike, for the purposes of this blog, let’s focus on nymph fishing with a drag free drift. I believe mastering this technique will put the most fish in your net at the end of the day on a pretty consistent basis.
The key to a good nymph drift is the same as good BBQ, “low and slow.” You want those flies crawling along the rocks on the bottom of the stream. It is important to remember that surface currents are usually faster than bottom currents. This knowledge comes in handy particularly when using a strike indicator. A big strike indicator will be pushed by faster surface currents which will prevent your flies from getting to the bottom or carry them through a run faster than the bottom current is moving. You can adjust for this by eliminating the strike indicator altogether and fishing nymphs on a tight line system, using a very smaller strike indicator, (think Palsa pinch-on indicator), or mending both line and indicator upstream as needed to keep flies crawling on the bottom.
Strike indicators can cause other issues with your drift. It’s important to conceptualize where your flies are in relation to where your strike indicator is. Adjusting the position of your strike indicator in the water so that it carries your flies through your target zone in critical. This can become a real challenge in broken water with a lot of conflicting currents. You don’t want that strike indicator sitting in an eddy current while your flies are racing through the slot adjacent to it. Keep that connection tight with your strike indicator leading your flies.
In order to make a timely adjustment it is important that you recognize when drag is occurring in your drift. A lot of my clients find it useful to keep a peripheral eye on foam or bubble lines as their flies are drifting. If your strike indicator suddenly begins racing ahead of the foam, mend upstream. If the bubbles start going faster than your strike indicator, mend downstream.
I spend a lot of time with clients sitting over pods of fish that may refuse a fly 10 or 15 times before they decide to eat. Often I will see that perfect cast and as those flies are drifting just right say to myself, “here it comes.” Once you start dialing in your drift you will get a feeling when good things are about to happen.